Active Inference, Epistemic Value, and Uncertainty in Conceptual Disorganization in First-Episode Schizophrenia

Schizophr Bull. 2023 Mar 22;49(Suppl_2):S115-S124. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbac125.


Background and hypothesis: Active inference has become an influential concept in psychopathology. We apply active inference to investigate conceptual disorganization in first-episode schizophrenia. We conceptualize speech production as a decision-making process affected by the latent "conceptual organization"-as a special case of uncertainty about the causes of sensory information. Uncertainty is both minimized via speech production-in which function words index conceptual organization in terms of analytic thinking-and tracked by a domain-general salience network. We hypothesize that analytic thinking depends on conceptual organization. Therefore, conceptual disorganization in schizophrenia would be both indexed by low conceptual organization and reflected in the effective connectivity within the salience network.

Study design: With 1-minute speech samples from a picture description task and resting state fMRI from 30 patients and 30 healthy subjects, we employed dynamic causal and probabilistic graphical models to investigate if the effective connectivity of the salience network underwrites conceptual organization.

Study results: Low analytic thinking scores index low conceptual organization which affects diagnostic status. The influence of the anterior insula on the anterior cingulate cortex and the self-inhibition within the anterior cingulate cortex are elevated given low conceptual organization (ie, conceptual disorganization).

Conclusions: Conceptual organization, a construct that explains formal thought disorder, can be modeled in an active inference framework and studied in relation to putative neural substrates of disrupted language in schizophrenia. This provides a critical advance to move away from rating-scale scores to deeper constructs in the pursuit of the pathophysiology of formal thought disorder.

Keywords: bayes network; conceptual organization; dynamic causal models; free energy principle; thought disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Gyrus Cinguli
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Schizophrenia*
  • Uncertainty